By Kelly Sidley
Five for Friday, written by a variety of MoMA staff members, is our attempt to spotlight some of the compelling, charming, and downright curious works in the Museum’s rich collection.
For many of us, the desire to escape on vacation reaches its apex every August. As heat permeates our daily landscapes and the slower pace of late summer drapes us in languor, we seek out calm country lakes, the majestic ocean, or perhaps a hidden swimming hole.
On one of the balmiest, laziest Fridays of the year, in the spirit of escaping to the beach or pool, I offer five works from MoMA’s collection that celebrate the relaxed spirit of summertime and sing the siren song of the sea. Let’s relish these last leisurely moments before autumn’s arrival.
Pablo Picasso. Night Fishing at Antibes. 1939
Picasso may have been the most prolific artist of the 20th century, but he was just like many of us: he, too, escaped to the seaside each August. But, typical of Picasso, his vacations were usually working holidays. Night Fishing at Antibes, made just before the beginning of World War II, presents an autobiographical scene. While enjoying a double-scoop ice cream cone on a stroll along the promenade in Antibes, Madame Picasso and her friend watch a pair of night fishermen trying to make their haul. A yellow moon illuminates the evening, along with a lantern used to attract fish to the surface of the water. Picasso lends the composition a dreamy, dark atmosphere through the blues, greens, and purples of his palette. As vacationers returned to their normal routines in September 1939, Germany began its invasion of Poland, and this sort of idyllic scene would become a distant memory for many years to come.
Henri Matisse. The Swimming Pool. 1952
At this late point in his life, Matisse spent each summer at the Hôtel Régina, his home in Nice. On a hot day he instructed his assistant Lydia to take him to a local pool, where he could watch the balletic movements of the swimmers. When the aging master arrived, the heat was too stifling; he asked Lydia to take him home, where he stated he would make his own swimming pool. Over the next few months, he designed the simple, elegant, 54-foot-long frieze to wrap around the walls of his dining room. Matisse said of his cutout, “I have always adored the sea, and now that I can no longer go for a swim, I have surrounded myself with it.” Imagine eating a summer meal at Matisse’s table, sipping a cool glass of wine as the waves seem to ebb and flow around you. The artist magically merged the real-world landscape with his colorful visions to create a perennially refreshing pool inside his home.
Roy Lichtenstein. Girl with Ball. 1961
Whether one escapes to the Jersey Shore or the Santa Monica Pier, Roy Lichtenstein’s early Pop art painting Girl with Ball sums up the buoyant exuberance of a day at the beach. The artist used an advertisement for a resort in the Pocono Mountains as the source image for this work. Lichtenstein adds a scalloped line towards the bottom of the canvas to suggest that this all-American girl, her hair reminiscent of ocean waves, is at the water’s edge. The simple palette of primary colors unifies the composition and builds upon its visual rhymes—such as the round, red shapes of the girl’s mouth and the ball—to lend it graphic precision and crispness. These characteristics imbue the work with a jaunty, festive air, the essence of a beach-bound summer day.
Garry Winogrand. Coney Island, New York. c. 1958
In 1958, the street photographer Garry Winogrand escaped from the asphalt canyons of Manhattan to Coney Island. Beneath the boardwalk, he discovered tired bodies escaping the brutal sun. The structural elements of the boardwalk’s wooden boards and metal brackets dominate the upper half of the image. Below stands a man in swim trunks, his head obscured by the abrupt architecture. Three seemingly unrelated beachgoers rest on rippled sand reminiscent of the ocean waves lapping just beyond their seats. Winogrand captures the feeling of torpor and exhaustion after a day of sun and swimming, hot dogs and warm beer.
Joel Sternfeld. Little Talbot Beach, Florida. September 1980
Photographer Joel Sternfeld captures a woman offering her body to the sun on an early fall day. Is she reveling in the last moments of summer or deliberately ignoring the more pressing claims of the autumn calendar? Lounging on the nearly empty shoreline, her lithe form seems unaware of the few figures wading in the middle ground. Nor does she acknowledge the aggressive line of military ships floating on the horizon. Here two worlds collide: the peaceful solitude of this Florida beach juts against the distant view of Jacksonville, its military base a stark reminder of the broader world, its powers, politics, and procedures waiting to rear up as the last rays of summer shine.
Read more here:: Five for Friday: Time to Hit the Water